The prophet Ezekiel catches our attention by telling the story of Israel in graphic terms of adultery and prostitution. God’s people are like a wife to God. He rescued her from oppressors and lovingly cared for her. Even so, she turns away again and again to other lovers.
The story begins with God’s gracious care when others had abandoned this people:
I spread the corner of My garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you My solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became Mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)
Ezekiel continues, telling how God lavishes His best gifts and mercy upon His new wife, the nation of Israel, resulting in Israel’s fame and high regard. But the response of the people of God is not to respond to God with devoted love but, rather, to turn away toward worshiping idols and seeking military support from other nations. Ezekiel roughly describes this through the metaphor of prostitution:
You trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his….At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. (16:15, 25)
This description of Israel’s behavior seems foul. The people have become like a prostitute who doesn’t even wait for customers to pay, but gives herself freely to any who pass by. God’s people have loved other gods and turned to other nations as their lovers.The result of such behavior is the judgment of God. For Ezekiel and his listeners the judgment is not something in the future, but the exile within Babylon that they were experiencing. They live now as prisoners of a foreign government because of their idolatrous prostitution.
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. (16:59)
There are consequences for Israel’s straying heart and devotion. But even in this place, God reaches out with mercy and grace:
Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. (16:60)
What love is this? God has given, and that gift has been spurned. God has cared, and that care was ignored. God has protected, but that protection was thrown off. This is the love of a disgraced and forsaken God who does not change even while His people inflict disobedience and pain upon Him.
This is the love and grace that we see most clearly in the Cross of Jesus Christ. There, becoming sin for us, Christ was reviled by those He came to save. There at the Cross, we see the great length to which God will go so that we – undeserving though we may be – might be drawn back to Him.